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Vermont Activist Groups Look To Unify And Mobilize Under Trump

Peter Hirschfeld
From left, Brittany Dunn of, Jill Krowinski of Planned Parenthood, Rachel Siegel of the Peace & Justice Center, Jonathan Kissam of the Vermont Workers Center, Javier Luna of Migrant Justice and Ebony Nyoni of Black Lives Matter Vermont.

Activist groups focused on racial justice, climate change, reproductive rights and economic issues are trying to turn the election of Donald Trump into a unifying moment for their various movements.

At a little after six in the evening Thursday, about 100 people were at a bar and music venue on the outskirts of downtown Burlington to ponder a pretty big question.

“Hi, everybody. Thanks for coming tonight – it’s awesome to see a full room,” said Felix Wai, co-owner of the ArtsRiot, the establishment hosting the event.

The event was called “What Do We Do Now? Taking Action in Trump’s America.”

“We personally at ArtsRiot want to figure out, what do we do now?” Wai said. “And who better to ask than people who have been doing the work, no matter who the president is? They’ve been doing the work for years or decades already.”

The lineup included speakers representing a half dozen activist groups. Each organization has its own dedicated focus. On this Thursday evening, however, speakers say this moment in U.S. politics transcends single-issue advocacy.

“It’s like this – you can’t just liberate something over here and then over here is sick and oppressed and diseased. We have to have liberation across the board," says Ebony Nyoni, president and founder of Black Lives Matter Vermont.

Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR
At an event at ArtsRiot Thursday evening, Ebony Nyoni, president and founder of Black Lives Matter Vermont, talked about activist organizing under the Trump Administration.

Nyoni says she isn’t afraid of an incoming president whose election was hailed by white supremacists. But she says it should serve as a wake-up call for people who haven’t been paying attention to social injustices taking place around them.

“If anything we just need to know that this is the season that we come together, that we unite as one, and that we make one powerful stand as one people – black lives matter,” Nyoni says.

Brittany Dunn is a volunteer organizer at the climate group Dunn used her time on the stage to discuss some of the specific organizational strategies at her organization. Her opening pitch though was more an invitation. 

“I just want to start off by saying that now more than ever, we must focus our effort on building a broad and unified social movement,” Dunn says.

"We need to practice and nurture a culture of solidarity, of taking action not just because we feel empathy with the victims of bad policies, but because our own liberation is bound up with theirs." — Jonathan Kissam, Vermont Workers Center

Jonathan Kissam, who serves on the coordinating committee at the Vermont Workers Center, offered a similar sentiment.

“More than anything we need to practice and nurture a culture of solidarity, of taking action not just because we feel empathy with the victims of bad policies, but because our own liberation is bound up with theirs,” Kissam says.

What that solidarity looks like, and whether it’s at all effective, will have a lot to do with how successfully these activist groups are able to organize in the coming months. 

Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR
About 100 people turned out to the event. Organizers say they're planning events in the near future to engage the wider public.

Rachel Siegel is executive director of the Peace & Justice Center, an organization that’s focused on racial justice, non-violence and fair trade. Siegel says she’s optimistic.

“I am in no way glad that the election played out how it did, but I am really glad that people are noticing now that there’s a problem,” Siegel says.

Siegel says the problem groups like hers face might be more formidable under a President Donald Trump.
“But the mobilization is also much bigger, and I am hoping that we will net positive as a result,” Siegel says.

Javier Luna, with Migrant Justice, says that under a Trump administration, his organization will need to redouble its efforts to protect migrant workers in Vermont. Luna says that’ll mean pushing for bias-free policing policies, and protecting previously won victories, like the ability for people in the country illegally to obtain a Vermont drivers license.

Luna reminded the audience that organizing efforts like the ones at Migrant Justice aren’t cheap.

“One of the things that we’ll be needing is resources to build this infrastructure to fight back, and to educate our community and ourselves,” Luna says.

Organizers say their new approach to post-Trump activism is still in its infancy. And they say they’re planning events in the near future to engage the wider public.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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